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Whether publicly or privately owned, utilities operate within a strict legislative and regulatory framework. Some utilities and their respective parent companies, have recognised the value of venturing into unregulated business areas – such as helping consumers monitor energy consumption, undertaking compliance auditing, providing metering and connection services, and offering engineering and construction services to external clients – as part of efforts to diversify their portfolios and develop innovative products and services that benefit both their customers and the wider industry.

Australian water quality centre

The Australian Water Quality Centre (AWQC) plays a critical role in the supply of safe, reliable water and wastewater services to the individuals and communities who rely on them.

Established nearly 90 years ago by South Australian water utility SA Water, AWQC was created to monitor the effectiveness of the protective barriers that are designed to prevent the entry and transmission of contaminants into drinking water systems or their discharge into the environment in wastewater.

Over this time, AWQC has supported SA Water to manage a broad range of water quality and resource activities and challenges. These challenges have led to the development of a comprehensive range of water quality testing, research and management services – tailored to all aspects of the water cycle from catchment to tap, to wastewater, reuse and alternative sources.

Today, AWQC serves a broad range of customers in Australia and around the world, including the water and food and beverage industries, local government, health and environmental regulators, and consultants to many of these groups. As an independent business unit within SA Water, AWQC has a specific water industry focus and is dedicated to safeguarding public health and the environment.

Offering more than just a traditional laboratory testing service, AWQC provides its customers with a range of analytical, research and consultancy services associated with the chemistry, microbiology, biology and ecology of waters, wastewater, sediment and sludge.

AWQC maintains its accreditation from the National Association of Testing Authorities Australia (NATA) for a wide variety of chemical, microbiological and biological tests, including sample collection and field analyses.

Routine and emergency laboratory testing and analysis services are delivered by two state-of-the-art laboratories in Melbourne and Adelaide, enabled by well-established business management systems and continuous improvement mindset.

Furthermore, AWQC’s Exemplar Global qualified Drinking Water Quality Management System Level 1 auditors provide other water utilities with audits of their Drinking Water Quality Management Plans.

AWQC’s passionate water quality testing, research and consultancy teams can assess the effectiveness of various treatment options, and are often engaged by other water utilities to help them to respond to major water quality incidents, water quality challenges such as algal management and microbiological contamination, as well as assist with disinfection and water treatment systems, and water treatment plant design and process optimisation.

The value of this critical service most notably came to the fore in August 2020, after severe storms caused a loss of power to Melbourne Water’s Silvan Reservoir – one of the city’s main water supplies – resulting in potentially untreated water entering the drinking water supply system.

A public health notice was quickly issued, alerting around 200,000 residents and advising them to boil their tap water before use. AWQC’s field and laboratory teams in Melbourne were immediately tasked with supporting Melbourne Water and Yarra Valley Water with around-the-clock rapid water quality sampling and testing, all while adhering to strict COVID-19 measures in place at the time.

It was these test results that gave local health authorities confidence to lift the boil water notice several days later. One of AWQC’s key areas of work with overseas customers is product testing, for things like tapware and other plumbing fixtures – basically anything that would come in contact with drinking water.

This is particularly important for companies wanting to introduce products into the Australian market, as they have to adhere to national standards. As a leader in the field of microbiological testing and analysis, AWQC has an unrivalled track record of developing and validating more effective testing methods for the detection of waterborne pathogens in the interests of protecting public health.

It has gained international acclaim for the use of next-generation DNA sequencing test methods for the rapid detection of waterborne microbial pathogens, algal toxin genes and faecal source tracking to optimise water quality management.

Using advanced robotic equipment, AWQC is able to take a simple water sample and determine exactly what organisms, including vertebrates, native fish and bacteria, have been in contact with that water source. Importantly, the benefits can be realised without the need for any traditional microscopy, culture techniques, or complex and time-consuming field sampling.

The most unique pieces of work AWQC has used this technology for include partnering with environmental groups to search for the notoriously shy platypus and presumed-extinct thylacine (Tasmanian tiger).

AWQC also has ongoing research-based collaborations with several overseas universities and water industry members, mainly in the Asia Pacific region. By working with groups like these, AWQC’s scientists and researchers have been able to build up their expertise and learn about improved ways of dealing with water and wastewater treatment challenges, environmental management and use of emerging and innovative technology.

More recently, working together with SA Health, AWQC’s expert scientists are playing a pivotal role in South Australia’s fight against COVID-19, through an ongoing program monitoring for traces of the virus in the state’s wastewater.

Supplementing the state’s existing patient testing regime with sewage surveillance provides a non-invasive mechanism to build a wider snapshot of the virus’ transmission within the community, helping local public health officers better understand the spread and identify areas where it may be emerging.

In terms of future plans, AWQC began operating from its Melbourne laboratory at the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Centre for Medical Research in 2016, and by early 2021, it will have relocated to larger and more fit-for-purpose premises in Alphington, to support continued expansion of services to the Victorian water industry.

For AWQC, one of the reasons behind opening a lab in Melbourne was to position itself as a provider of rapid and responsive sampling and testing to existing and prospective clients in Victoria who were wanting a locally-based service.

Over the past four or so years, AWQC has begun contracts for the supply of analytical laboratory and sampling services to Victorian water utilities and providers, Yarra Valley Water, Melbourne Water and Wannon Water, as well as TasWater in Tasmania.

The organisation is looking forward to continuing these partnerships, and hopes to expand and share its expertise with more water industry groups around Australia to satisfy ever-increasing market demand for its testing, research and consultancy services.

With an increasing workload, AWQC also anticipates growing its current total workforce of 130, as well as its support of emerging scientists, through hands-on training offered to students at several universities in Adelaide and Melbourne.

Ovida

Ovida was launched in 2017 to cater to the rapidly evolving energy needs of business customers, large energy users and electricity generators across the electricity supply chain in Australia.

Ovida was established to provide a service to the market by building and operating large energy assets, with ongoing fully integrated asset management capabilities that leverage its core expertise in operations and maintenance.

The organisation stays true to these roots as it knows it can provide sustainable energy solutions to the market backed by its shareholders, who have invested over $11 billion in critical energy infrastructure and assets across Australia.

Ovida has a national footprint and works closely and collaboratively with its customers to understand their needs and develop tailored, affordable, reliable and sustainable solutions that work for them.

Ovida delivers Energy (and electrical infrastructure)-as-a-Service, ensuring it provides customers with solutions that cover everything from capital costs and installation, to ongoing maintenance and asset management, providing long-term benefits while reducing operational risks.

Martin Becker, Ovida General Manager, said, “We are aligned with our customers every step of the way and work with them to ensure their energy solutions are optimised and we add value to their business.”

Ovida has installed a significant portfolio of commercial-scale solar systems across Australia, successfully commissioned a shared renewable energy solution for a multi-tenant residential complex that is the first of its kind in Australia, and installed and currently manages a portfolio of grid connection assets and distributed energy resources (DER) for large critical infrastructure customers.

The organisation has the ability to tailor solutions to meet its customers’ individual energy requirements, including energy storage solutions, re-deployable solar options to provide flexibility, and standalone power systems as well as the design, development and delivery of bespoke hybrid microgrids and private energy infrastructure, whether that be at a transmission or distribution level.

Ovida’s complete end-to-end offering and flexibility ensures its customers are always provided with the right solution depending on their requirements, allowing the organisation to push the envelope when it comes to providing its customers with innovative solutions that meet their individual energy challenges.

It works with customers to help them achieve their own renewable energy and decarbonisation ambitions and that of their customers and the communities in which they serve, offering absolute safety, asset performance visibility and reliability guarantees.

Moving to renewables is a key ambition for many of Ovida’s customers – of course the economics and environmental benefits are both key drivers and that is why it offers to own and operate renewable energy assets and private energy infrastructure to ensure its customers are able to free up capital and focus on their core business.

Customers can integrate with existing generation sources to progressively decarbonise their energy, with Ovida’s approach ensuring its customers are able to realise their renewable energy ambitions at a competitive market rate.

For renewables generators, Ovida provides tailored, and cost-effective, long-term solutions that provide an alternative to the network operators. It works collaboratively with customers to develop competitive solutions that seek to reduce the cost of connecting to the grid, and its value proposition is centred around its expertise in managing large energy assets and infrastructure – de-risking any exposure for its customers.

Ovida’s dedicated business energy solutions team has combined experience to cover developing innovative technology solutions and bespoke design services. It is one of only a few energy companies in Australia that has ISO 55001 and 27001 accreditations for asset management and information management systems around SCADA and information security.

As part of its future plans, the organisation intends to provide the market with alternative, reliable and competitive solutions in contrast to incumbents who may be slower to move with technology advancements or who are unwilling to listen to their customers’ needs.

Ovida welcomes a challenge and is investing in its pursuit to build, own and maintain renewable energy assets and private energy infrastructure for its customers so that they can focus on their core business.

Iota

South East Water created Iota as a way to capture innovation and develop it into progressive and sustainable solutions for the industry. The utility is always thinking about the future and new ways it can bring value to its customers, community and the environment.

One of the ways South East Water does this is by developing new technologies that enable it to create a better experience for its customers, manage its networks, protect the environment and save our most precious resource – water.

Through Iota, South East Water has been able to expand the scope of business activities, refine its approach and pace around product development, build solutions for the industry, and ultimately share the Intellectual Property (IP) it has developed with the broader water industry, for a fair return.

The benefit of having Iota as a separate commercial business is that the organisation is able to share its technology and innovation beyond its borders, supporting other utilities both here in Australia and overseas to create social and environmental impact for their customers.

For example, some of its solutions, such as OneBox®, have the potential to be adopted and developed into off-grid, sustainable sanitation solutions in informal settlements and/or developing countries.

An agile commercial subsidiary is not only easier for other utilities and partners to engage with, but it also creates a strong need for robust product development practices and commercial-grade solutions.

Iota commercialises IP and solutions that have been developed and proven within the South East Water network. Some of these solutions include:

OneBox®

OneBox® enables utilities to remotely monitor and control low-pressure sewer systems in near real time, supporting utilities to fix any issues or prevent potential sewer spills before customers even know there’s an issue. OneBox® is the brains behind South East Water’s Peninsula ECO and Aquarevo projects.

Lentic

Lentic is an end-to-end IoT platform that is ‘fit for water’. Lentic is designed to collect, visualise and analyse information from millions of in-field devices, enabling a shift from reactive to predictive operations, asset management and customer engagement. Lentic is device and telecommunication provider agnostic, providing the flexibility utilities need, now and into the future. Out of the box connectors make API-based integration with any third-party systems easier than ever.

Digital meters

Many utilities are on a digital transformation journey, and making the switch to digital water meters is a major part of this. South East Water has co-developed NB-IoT meters, which are designed to measure flow, temperature, pressure and vibration. This means that not only will the meters help customers to detect leaks on their property, but will also enable the utility to find and fix leaks in the network before they turn into big bursts which disrupt customers and the community.

Digital meter trials in the South East Water network have detected water leaks in up to ten per cent of residential properties. Between May and October 2020, the technology has allowed South East Water to notify 51 customers about potential leaks in their homes, collectively saving those customers close to $20,000 and 4.6 million litres of water –enough to fill 46,000 bathtubs.

footprint®

footprint is a smart metering platform that is supporting businesses to track water usage and any irregular usage patterns to help them find and fix leaks, saving both money and water.

Daniel Sullivan, CEO of Iota, said, “The water industry has more in common than not, and Iota is in a unique position to facilitate a shared approach to solving some of our problems. We’re partnering with utilities to share solutions to these key industry challenges.”

Some examples of how Iota is sharing these solutions include:

Iota is working with Christchurch City Council where the OneBox® solution has been mandated for most new developments. The significant damage to the city in the wake of the 2011 earthquakes meant that budget for new infrastructure was limited, and in some areas there were poor ground conditions and high liquefaction rates, which meant a gravity sewer was not suitable.

The installation of OneBox® units has significantly reduced the need for wastewater infrastructure, resulting in the equivalent savings of NZ $8 million for the city. Seven hundred OneBox® units are in place today and a further 10,000 will be installed at houses and some commercial premises in greenfield sites and other areas where there are wastewater capacity constraints.

Iota is also partnering with Flow Systems, a multi-utility provider, to roll out thousands of OneBox® units in multiple developments across New South Wales. Flow Systems is a progressive utility, who Iota is supporting to create a circular wastewater network.

Iota is supporting City West Water’s digital meter trial in Melbourne, providing digital meters transmitting data over the NB-IoT network into Iota’s Lentic IoT Platform.

“Iota is in a unique position to be a genuine industry partner, sharing IP, insights and lessons learned from South East Water to support others on their journey towards more sophisticated monitoring and control of water and wastewater networks,” Mr Sullivan said.

Iota is continuously expanding its portfolio with new IP and solutions developed and proven at South East Water, and will continue to seek partnerships to commercialise these at scale.

Echo group

In August 2020, EnergyAustralia, one of Australia’s leading energy retailers, announced plans to complete its acquisition of solar and LED lighting company, Echo Group. Echo Group will continue to operate under local brand offerings that many Australians have come to know and trust: ‘Cherry Energy Solutions’, ‘Eko Energy’ and ‘Littil LED’.

Vaughan Furniss, EnergyAustralia Head of Commercial and Industrial, said that EnergyAustralia is committed to bringing its customers the latest in energy efficiency solutions at an affordable price.

“Our unique partnership with Echo Group will strengthen our offering and enable us to continue to deliver on this at scale,” Mr Furniss said.

“Echo Group has a solid reputation for great service and technical advice. They have worked with many of Australia’s top ASX-listed companies in new and retrofit buildings and have been regularly recognised by the industry for excellence and innovation.

“As an energy retailer, combining our resources with an innovative company like Echo Group has numerous benefits – the main one being that we will have increased capability to offer energy efficiency advice and solutions to our customers, be it residential, business or industrial.

This ultimately saves them energy and dollars, while reducing their carbon emissions.” Mr Furniss explained that it is also beneficial for EnergyAustralia to have access to an independent operation, where it can trial next-generation products and services. EnergyAustralia is currently working on two major collaborations where Echo is fostering energy partnerships for some of Australia’s most recognisable entities.

One of these projects is the installation of a 99kW solar panel system at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). While this won’t meet the ground’s entire electricity requirements (anyone who has been to the MCG will know how big it is!), the electricity generated from these solar panels will power the MCG’s wastewater treatment facility.

This will allow grey water at the site to be recycled using renewable energy, and the resulting ‘greener-than-green’ water will be used for the toilets and various other facilities that require water around the MCG.

Echo Group is also supporting EnergyAustralia in its work with McDonald’s to help the fast food giant meet its corporate sustainability mandate for all new Australian sites to operate on 100 per cent renewable energy.

“EnergyAustralia has created a bundled solution for McDonald’s wherein Echo install solar for McDonald’s on sites of their choosing, and EnergyAustralia will continue to provide them with the balance of meter (that is to say, any further electricity requirements sourced from the grid will be green electricity from EnergyAustralia) at no additional cost,” Mr Furniss said.

“This is part of a bespoke offer from EnergyAustralia to bundle solar, renewable grid electricity, plus an exclusive residential package available to 82,000 McDonald’s employees across the country. They will have the opportunity to join EnergyAustralia as a residential customer with special rates for their electricity and gas at home, which includes the option to go neutral at no extra cost.

“In both cases, we’re working together with these two organisations to understand their unique challenges and sustainability goals, and deliver tailored solutions that work for them.”

Mr Furniss said that there’s a lot of confusion in the solar and LED spaces due to the broad range of price points, and Echo Group is working to overcome this challenge.

“A customer can end up with wildly varying quotes for a solar installation on the same sized roof, which understandably leads to questions about the quality of the underlying products and install,” Mr Furniss said.

“The value we provide is making energy simpler for customers, and that’s where trust becomes very important. Transparent communication is the bedrock of how Echo Group does business, and how it has earned the reputation as a trusted energy and sustainability partner among their customers.

“Health and safety is also becoming a major concern for the industry and again a challenge where Echo is leading the way, with a solid safety record and safety measures built into the design and installation of every system.

“As this grows more important in the space, we may potentially see a shift in the regulatory frameworks and Echo will be on the front foot, as it’s already a key part of its operations.

“This industry is full of challenges but it’s also full of unexpected opportunities, so our aim is to retain Echo’s agility and ability to respond to the market as it continues to evolve.”

EnergyAustralia is working towards Echo Group’s next stage of growth by making new and emerging technologies available to its customers, including storage and demand management options, to help get them on the road to long-term independence and control of their energy usage and costs.

Echo has over 70 employees and in-house solar and LED installation teams based in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

“While this will continue to operate separately, we are excited to apply the team’s passion, expertise and knowledge to the wider offerings of EnergyAustralia,” Mr Furniss said.

“Being a subsidiary of EnergyAustralia means the Echo team has access to career development opportunities. Retaining that talent is key for us, and key to the future success of Echo as a whole.

“While the energy space continues to evolve and new solutions emerge, we see this as a transformative time, which will allow us to make energy-saving and reliability-boosting technologies available to more businesses and households across Australia.”

Mondo

Many of Mondo’s products and services have a well-established reputation in the industry. In December 2018, it was announced that AusNet Services’ commercial businesses – Select Solutions, Geomatic Technologies and Mondo Power – would come together to operate as Mondo.

For years, Select Solutions and Geomatic Technologies were leaders in metering, mobile and spatial technology solutions for utilities. Mondo Power was formed in 2017 and focused on distributed energy offerings such as mini-grids, virtual power plants and energy management for commercial and community partners.

These services continue under the Mondo brand, and this unique combination of experience and industry knowledge is now leading the way towards a safer, more reliable and sustainable energy future for customers.

The rapid changes seen in the energy sector have brought about new technologies and future markets that enable Mondo to assist its customers with solutions that better serve their needs today, as well as position them to take advantage of emerging opportunities.

According to Chad Hymas, EGM Growth and Future Networks at AusNet Services, global trends are showing an increase in the mix of regulated and commercial energy businesses.

“This is because energy companies are well placed to understand emerging technologies and how they are impacting the future of energy. This understanding creates solutions for customers to help them make better energy choices.

“We’re solving problems that are unique to Australia, using our own technology, and partnering with key industry bodies to ensure the future is brighter for everyone involved. To be successful, we are evolving new ways of thinking, engaging, listening and delivering tangible value for our customers.”

Mondo provides a range of energy and infrastructure products and services to business, government, communities and households. These services range from designing, building, owning, and operating wind farm connection assets, high-voltage and low-voltage metering services, high-voltage asset maintenance, and pioneering new markets and energy management technology to support Australia’s transition to a sustainable energy future.

Over the past three years Mondo has:

• Connected 1600MW of renewable energy into the NEM by building the connection assets for Australia’s largest wind farm – Stockyard Hill – and other wind farm projects such as Murra Warra, Bulgana, Crowlands and Dundonnell

• Won the 2019 Clean Energy Council Award for Community Engagement for its work in Yackandandah to develop a mini-grid in the Victorian town that would enable it to source 100 per cent of its electricity from renewables. The mini-grid has now generated more than 3GWh of locally-produced renewable energy, saving the community nearly $500,000 in energy costs

• Delivered Victoria’s first grid-connected battery, the 30MW Ballarat Energy Storage System, in partnership with EnergyAustralia, AusNet Services, Downer-Spotless, Fluence, Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Victorian Government

• Commenced the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project. This project is of national significance and will involve Mondo building, owning and operating a new terminal station and approximately 190km of transmission line. This is a critical piece of infrastructure that will unlock the renewable energy resources in Victoria’s west and is the biggest transmission network augmentation the state has undertaken in the last 40 years

• Mondo is delivering the Deakin University smart energy microgrid project, a $30 million initiative at Deakin’s Waurn Ponds campus to establish an industrial-scale smart microgrid energy system, and integrated research and education platform. The smart microgrid will supply around 54 per cent of the campus’ current power consumption via a 7MW solar farm, 0.25MW rooftop solar and 1MW battery storage capacity

• As a proud partner of the Victorian Schools Water Efficiency Program (SWEP), Mondo installs water meter data loggers and is responsible for data delivery to the SWEP platform. So far, this program has saved schools 8.9 billion litres of water which would have cost them more than $28.2 million in water and wastewater charges

• Mondo is helping to deliver the Ausgrid Digitalisation Program, and has captured over 100,000 network spans (3,800km) via its AIMS3D LiDAR and photo imagery system for Ausgrid over the past 12 months.

The span data is processed and hosted in Mondo’s cloud-based platform to deliver a 3D digital desktop view of the network, enabling vegetation analysis, asset identification and network design without the necessity of a field visit

A key focus for Mondo is developing community energy hubs, supported by in-house technology, that empower homes and businesses to generate, manage, store and share energy. Mondo’s energy hub projects aim to help people understand their energy options and their eligibility for government rebates while offering smart solar and battery systems from a reputable, trusted source.

Developed in collaboration with local councils, businesses, community groups and government agencies, these pioneering initiatives have far-reaching benefits for a region’s economy, employment and community, as well as the environment. Overlaying this community-based focus is a requirement to safely and reliably aid the growing adoption of household and business solar.

This requires groundbreaking pilot projects such as Project EDGE, a project which seeks to overcome a complex challenge – how to orchestrate Australia’s growing distributed energy resources (DER) (like solar and battery) to benefit both DER asset owners and the network. Such projects are being delivered in partnership with key industry players AEMO and ARENA and are critical for the future reliability of the electricity network.

In the commercial energy solution space, Mondo is implementing a range of behind-the-meter energy solutions for the automotive, brewing, winemaking and education sectors, as well as ongoing collaboration work setting up pilots with water and wastewater utilities and telephone companies.

Mondo intends to invest in future growth and innovation, and play a key role in the creation of an efficient, secure, sustainable and integrated energy future across Australia. It sees three key areas driving these growth opportunities: decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitisation of the energy system.

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

©2021 Utility Magazine. All rights reserved

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